Down with Last Click Attribution

We’re here to voice a controversial opinion: Here at Sefati & Co, we’re very much against last-click attribution.

We realize this is an unpopular take, especially among C-suite members who love it so much. To be clear, we understand why they love it: Last click attribution shows a direct correlation between marketing methodologies and revenues, which helps executives feel like they have a good sense of their overall marketing ROI.

But the truth is that last-click attribution doesn’t actually tell you as much as its proponents would have you believe; in fact, we’ve seen a lot of companies adopt a last-click attribution focus and really suffer for it.

Down With Last Click Attribution

What is Last Click Attribution?

Last click attribution (sometimes called last-touch attribution) describes a digital analytics modeling approach where the last click gets all the credit for the sales, leads, or conversions. In other words, if someone comes to your website after clicking on an ad from Bing Ads, then Bing gets 100 percent of the “credit” for sending that consumer your way.

The Problem with Last Click Attribution

Sounds simple enough, right? So what’s the problem?

Last click attribution may give you a clear-cut picture of the marketing channels that convert vs. the ones that don’t, and that may in turn cause you to boost funding for some channels while reducing the resources you spend elsewhere. But these important spending decisions are often made without a full understanding of the consumer journey.

These days, that consumer journey tends to be rather complicated. There are online and offline channels, and consumers can have multiple devices such as smartphones, tablets, and home and work computers. Additionally, there are many platforms they participate on, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Google. Plus, they respond to offline advertising, word of mouth, and online reviews and testimonials. Consumers may read a blog post, see your updates on social media, and see your ads online and TV, all of which can point them down the path toward eventually making a purchase.

With the last-click attribution model, all of this complexity is reduced to an oversimplified cause-and-effect relationship; you may credit a Google ad for the conversion when there was also a blog post and a YouTube video that helped give that consumer the confidence needed to make their ultimate purchase. The bottom line is, if you put most of your budget and resources in the last channel and neglect other channels, you may see a negative impact on your overall revenues.

Digital Marketing is Like Basketball

Think of your marketing strategy like a game of basketball. On any given team, there may only be a couple of players who do most of the scoring… but that doesn’t mean the other team members don’t contribute in some way. You need people to block, pass, steal, and rebound. If all you have are scorers, your team may not fare as well as you’d think.

Digital marketing is very similar. Not every channel is made to convert into leads or sales, but they can still play an important role in the buyers’ journey.

Social media is a good example. Many companies communicate with their clients on social media and use it as an awareness channel. Through social media, a company can create a faithful following, and make announcements of their products, services, events, and promotions, all of which can later lead to sales. Customers don’t always purchase a product directly from social media, but these channels can still be important for raising interest and nurturing leads.

All too often, though, executives just don’t see the value in these channels, which are more about “assists” than scoring. Cutting them from the team, however, may mean you don’t have nearly as many opportunities to score… and in short, your revenues can start to falter.

Alternatives to Last Click Attribution

All of this raises the question: What do we recommend in place of last-click attribution?

Google Analytics and other digital marketing platforms offer different types of attribution modeling, such as first-click attribution, last-click attribution, last non-direct click, linear attribution, time decay attribution, and more.

In fact, Google Analytics has a tool called Multi-Channel Funnels Model Comparison, which helps you better understand the customer journey and compare different attribution models and how they impact your marketing campaigns.

Here’s an example of a linear model:

Source: Google

As you can see, it basically gives credit to each channel, based on an arbitrary score you set. You can set it so each channel gets the same amount of credit, or you can set it so those that are more expensive get more credit.

For us, this model is oversimplified. The buyer journey is a lot more complicated. A user can search via computer, later do some follow-up research from their phone, then wind up converting using their spouse’s tablet. Unless they’re logged into each device with the same Google account, Google will register three users as opposed to one user. Also, Google Analytics cannot understand the offline considerations: For instance, maybe the user saw an ad on TV, or received a personal recommendation from a trusted friend.

Other attribution models fall short for similar reasons. Really, unless you have a team of world-class, enterprise-level consultants (and enterprise-level tools), proper attribution can be very difficult to pin down.

Our Approach: Common Sense Attribution

So where does this leave us?

John Wanamaker (1838-1922), a famous department store magnate, said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Well, digital marketing is here to solve that problem, but only if you get your KPIs right. And you have to have different expectations and KPIs for different channels.

For example, with your daily Facebook posts, your goal should be to increase your reach and reactions within your space. For SEO, the goal may be increased rankings and organic traffic. For paid advertising, focus on increasing your high funnel leads, even if they may not necessarily translate directly into dollars.

Digital Advertising Evangelism

Our message to marketers: Stop simply taking orders from your boss or clients. Educating them on a more proper approach to digital marketing is a must, not only for your success but also for theirs.

Be ready to challenge assumptions, recalibrate expectations, and advocate for a more complex (or “team-focused”) approach to digital marketing.

And if you have any questions about how to do that, reach out today.

Author: Al Sefati

Al Sefati is an enterprise SEO and search marketing expert and the founder of Sefati & Company. Al works with marketing agencies and enterprise level clients and he is in charge of forming and monitoring their SEO and SEM strategies. Al blogs often about latest SEO, SEM and digital marketing trends and tactics.